Mission Creek Options

By Kelly Herrick   |   June 24, 2021
The Mission Heritage Trail Association is advocating for the “safe passage” of pedestrians in the Mission Creek corridor

Last week, Public Works representatives were in front of the Historic Landmarks Commission to present conceptual options related to the initial Mission Canyon Bridge Studies effort. The complicated project will ultimately enhance safety along the sensitive corridor and Mission Canyon Bridge, which spans Mission Creek and is located to the north of Mission Santa Barbara and Mission Historical Park, south of Rocky Nook Park, and east of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. 

According to staff reports, the bridge was constructed by Rowland Hazard in 1891, and a wooden sidewalk, supported off the bridge, was added in 1929 and the bridge was widened on the downstream side in 1930. Mission Historical Park, including the Mission Canyon Bridge, was designated a City Landmark in 1998. The bridge, in its present configuration, was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2020. 

In 2016, City Council directed staff to move forward with a Highway Bridge Program grant to complete the Mission Canyon Bridge Studies. Federal funds were programmed for the Preliminary Engineering phase, which has focused on studying the existing conditions and challenges associated with the bridge. In 2018, City Council approved the professional services contract with Wallace Group, Inc. to assist with these environmental and technical studies and preliminary engineering. In 2019, the project team kicked off the Mission Canyon Bridge Studies process at a community meeting that was held at Rocky Nook Park. It is anticipated that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be required for a full discussion of any proposed project alternatives, due to the bridge’s City Landmark status. 

Roughly a half-mile long, the section of Mission Canyon Road of concern extends from the Old Mission to Foothill Road. Numerous accidents and close calls have occurred in this corridor in recent years, but it is also an evacuation route for more than 500 homes in Mission Canyon. 

The citizens’ group, Mission Heritage Trails Association, has been calling for safety improvements to the area as well as historic preservation. This all-volunteer committee includes three professional historians, an archeologist, two architects, and several community leaders, as well as adjacent homeowners on Mission Canyon Road, and other concerned citizens.

“The essential focus of this Association is to improve the safety of walkers, bikers, and vehicle riders traveling this exceptional historical corridor. MHTA is committed to ensuring that any solution to this goal respects all the natural and historic treasures which have helped form today’s Santa Barbara,” said Fred Sweeney, MHTA Board president. He is a longtime resident of the area, and also an award-winning architect.

According to the Association, which held an informational press meeting earlier this month, a starting point for safety improvement is the stone bridge over Mission Creek. The current Mission Canyon Bridge, rebuilt in 1930, is nearing the end of its life with a Cal Trans rating of 52. When upgrading of the bridge occurs, the MHTA believes it should be done with due respect for the bridge’s status as historically significant. 

The engineering, environmental, and cultural resource professionals of the Wallace Group undertook a two-year project to investigate the structural integrity of the bridge, the contours of the roadway and walkway, the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as those of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and to present the community with design options. Based on its study, the Wallace Group has advanced three options for securing, while preserving, the bridge and three options for improving the safety of foot, bicycle, or vehicle traffic along the roadway. 

During the first round of public comments, concerns for safety and a desire to maintain the rural feeling of the canyon were among the most popular sentiments voiced. Completion of this phase of the bridge study will allow the City and the County to initiate the next steps in the project, which include applying for State or federal funding. There are about six years remaining for the city to receive additional Caltrans funding to implement any selected design solution. 

At the HLC meeting, commissioners supported focusing on pedestrian safety, building a pedestrian bridge on the west side, away from the stone bridge. They directed staff to formulate a plan to find a way to accomplish this, as well as to structurally upgrade the current stone bridge without drastically changing the façade. MHTA encourages the community to rally behind this opportunity to secure the Mission Canyon Bridge and enhance the safety of the corridor for now and for the future. Public input is encouraged, for it will help guide the final selections.

For more information, visit www.missionheritagetrailassociation.org.


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